Sergio Bendixen: Pioneer of Multilingual Polling

Sergio Bendixen: Pioneer of Multilingual Polling

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Above: Sergio Bendixen (center right) during a 2012 press briefing.

Sergio Bendixen -- who did more than any other collaborator to help New America Media build ethnic media's visibility and credibility through his multilingual polls of media usage -- died last night in Miami. He had been battling a bad flu for several days and apparently suffered congestive heart failure, his brother told me on a phone call this morning.

I wanted to share the news since some of us knew him well dating back to 2000 -- his first multi-lingual poll for NAM which found that over half of California's Asian, Hispanic and African American majority regularly relied for news, information and entertainment on ethnic news organizations. The poll made headlines in the mainstream press, and helped put the rapidly growing ethnic media sector on the map.

I met Sergio through the writer and immigrant rights activist Roberto Lovato who admired the tremendous role he played during the Prop 187 years when he developed Spanish language polling for KMEX -- Univision's LA station -- and became the leading analyst for Univision tracking and resisting the backlash against immigrants in California in the 1990s. Before that, he had been the first Hispanic political consultant to run a presidential campaign (Alan Cranston's). "Yes, I ran it into the ground," he used to joke.

The notable fact for me about Sergio as a pollster was the profound respect he had for the opinions he
solicited. He always looked for a way to make sense out of people's views. Listening to him share his polling results, you knew this was never just about numbers -- he was discovering a parallel universe he wanted to share with the rest of us.

When undocumented immigrants overwhelmingly favored the last comprehensive reform bill being considered in Congress, he delivered our poll results on the floor of the US Senate and swayed at least one Senator (the bill lost narrowly). He got criticized by some on the left who opposed the bill for not being radical enough. For him "radical" meant giving voice to the opinions of those who had the most to lose.

When U.S. forces were toppling the statue of Saddam in Baghdad with overwhelming support in public opinion polls, Sergio released NAM's multilingual poll of Asian, Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern American adults warning of devastating consequences for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  "Who are the real cosmopolites?" he wondered aloud. The poll was one of more than 16 he conducted for NAM that helped make multilingual polling an indispensible component of what "public opinion" in today’s America means.

I remember driving with Sergio in Miami when he took a call from a client -- a local candidate who was losing in the polls. I still recall how he explained the facts in a way that made the guy feel he would learn more from his defeat than from winning.

Having Sergio on your side was like having an ace up your sleeve -- not just because he was the shrewdest observer of U.S. politics I've known, but because what drove his passion for politics was an even deeper compassion for people, those who voted and those who could not.

Two weeks ago, he sent an email that he'd be out here and looked forward to getting together. I had a suspicion he might be stepping out of semi-retirement -- trends in politics have become too dangerous not to draw him in. Absorbing his loss will take time, but his professionalism and integrity, and his passion for discovery, will continue to set the standard for building and sustaining inclusive discourse.